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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Dark Horse is based on a true story that's rich with empathy and heart, though balanced by a harsh reality. Expect intense scenes that show a man battling with mental illness, poverty, and personal demons (both internal and external). It also features scenes of kids drinking and using drugs (weed), as well as many menacing moments as a teen boy is slowly inducted into biker-gang life (there are beatings and more). Also some swearing, including "f--k" and "s--t."
What's the story?
Genesis Potini (Cliff Curtis), a real-life Maori chess champion in New Zealand, is the subject of this compelling biopic. Focusing on the weeks and months after Genesis is discharged from a mental institution, THE DARK HORSE depicts both his struggle to find his bearings and his impact on an after-school chess club where he coaches underprivileged and troubled kids. All the while, he's managing a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and navigating a relationship between his beloved but sometimes violent brother, Ariki (Wayne Hapa), and his troubled-but-still-hopeful nephew, Mana (James Rolleston), who's poised to be introduced into his father's biker gang.
Is it any good?
If you want to see a great actor fully inhabit his role, then watch Curtis in this deeply moving film: He's its heart. Though it follows a similar trajectory as other inspiring biopics, The Dark Horse surprises by taking detours -- into both Genesis' childhood and his increasingly fraught relationships with his brother and his nephew, as well as his mental illness -- that not only enhance the storyline but deepen it to a level that renders the whole thing both hauntingly beautiful and heartbreaking. They're unexpected but yet feel universal and true.
The chess is interesting, too: This intricate game rises above the station of mere storytelling prop, acting instead as both symbol and savior -- not just for the kids, but for Genesis himself.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can tak about how The Dark Horse handles the subject of mental illness. Is it realistic? Authentic? Respectful? How does it compare to other movies that tackle the subject?
How does the film address racism and classism in New Zealand? What role does chess play for the kids that Genesis coaches?
The movie is based on real events. How accurate do you think it is? Why might filmmakers decide to alter the facts of what happened? How could you find out more about the story behind the movie?
- In theaters: April 1, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: July 12, 2016
- Cast: Cliff Curtis, James Rolleston, Kirk Torrance
- Director: James Napier Robertson
- Studio: Broad Green Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Friendship
- Character strengths: Empathy
- Run time: 124 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language throughout, and drug use
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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